Savoring Flavor: Examining The Legendary Creatures Of Adventures In The Forgotten Realms

Roll for flavor initiative as SCG Assistant Manager and professional dungeon master Karington Hess rates the flavor of legendary creatures in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

Drizzt Do’Urden, illustrated by Tyler Jacobson

Hail and well met, adventurer! You look weary from your travels. Pull up a chair, relax, and warm yourself by the fire. Perhaps you would like to see a review for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms from a different point of view? Enjoy this bowl of stew as the moral of today’s tale is to Savor the Flavor!

But who am I to tackle such a topic? I am Karington, and Karington means me! I am Star City Comics & Games – Assistant Manager, Magic: The Gathering enthusiast, Dungeons & Dragons fan, and Dungeon Master for nearly thirteen years! I also run games professionally during my off time. 

Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is the most flavorful set ever released and a lot of thought went into the design of this set, not only for power level but also for the sake of its flavor! I’m absolutely the target audience for this product and have been bubbling over with excitement for its release. This marriage of two of my favorite franchises is all I ever wanted and it had me expectantly refreshing my browser so as not to miss a single preview!

All week long, I’m going to tell a little about the lore of cards in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, assess how faithful each design is to the actual character depicted, and assign grades based on those factors.

Today we’re talking about several of the legendary creatures from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Obviously, I have a lot of opinions when it comes to the flavor of these cards so let’s jump right in!

Acererak the Archlich

Acererak the Archlich

Acererak the Archlich was the subject of Bennie Smith’s latest Commander Deep Dive (if you haven’t read the article already, you should because it’s fantastic), but here’s a quick primer on the legendary Zombie Wizard.

Acererak is quite possibly the most powerful arcane spellcaster in The Forgotten Realms, is practically immortal, and is the architect of the Tomb of Annihilation in the module bearing the same name. In the module, Acererack’s goal is to use a device called the Soul Monger to trap the souls of the dead and create an undead monstrosity known as an Atropal, with the ultimate goal being to create a new evil deity.

Acererack has never been truly defeated, as his phylactery, the source of the lich’s dark power, is safely hidden on a demiplane he created away from the material plane which no mortal or even deity can find. If he’s ever destroyed, his body reforms shortly after. Acererak often waits for the wheels of time to grind his opponents into dust, simply allowing whoever stood against him to die, and then sets out to accomplish his goals. In the lore of Tomb of Horrors, where Acererak made his first appearance, his soul wanders to strange planes of existence (let’s come back to that shortly).

So let’s take a look at Acererak’s card in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. As mentioned previously, he’s a legendary black Zombie Wizard. I want so badly for Lich to be a creature type, but Zombie Wizard it is.

When Acererak the Archlich enters the battlefield, if you haven’t completed Tomb of Annihilation, return Acererak the Archlich to its owner’s hand and venture into the dungeon.

Whenever Acererak the Archlich attacks, for each opponent, you create a 2/2 black Zombie creature token unless that player sacrifices a creature.

I think that Acererak’s abilities are very flavorful. The focus on delving into the dungeon, the reward for completing the Tomb of Annihilation, and creating Zombies on attack allow you to build around him and lead to some very interesting interactions. That said, something feels like it’s missing here.

First, Acererak is smart. Like, super-smart. You don’t design the world’s deadliest dungeon without being terribly clever. Also, as a lich, Acererak is a powerful arcane spell-caster. Both of these factors go under-appreciated in the design of this card.

Remember that point that I wanted to come back to? Let’s touch on it now. In my opinion, Acererak should have been a planeswalker and I would have made him Grixis-colored to better represent him as the plane-traveling, nigh-invincible master architect that he is. I think you could leave the focus on the dungeon-delving and Zombies but still let players play him as their commander.

Overall, I think Acererak is a neat design and a powerful commander but that he could have been better. Maybe, like Acererak, I’m just greedy.

Grade: C

Bruenor Battlehammer

Bruenor Battlehammer

Faithful friend of Drizzt Do’Urden, adoptive father of both Catti-brie and Wulfgar, crafter of the mighty hammer AegisFang, and king of Mithral Hall, Bruenor Battlehammer has earned many titles over the centuries. As tough as stone and nearly as stubborn, Bruenor was true to his friends, to whom he often showed a much softer side. Bruenor was also a natural leader and was the leader of Clan Battlehammer.

He was a cunning warrior of noble bearing. He taught a young Wulfgar how to work the forge and eventually forged AegisFang, which would become Wulfgar’s signature weapon. Alongside the Companions of the Hall, Bruenor faced down dragons, demons, and worse before eventually reclaiming his clan’s ancestral home of Mithral Hall. The quote of Bruenor’s flavor text, “Knew I’d find ye in trouble if I came out an’ looked for ye!” is a direct quote from R.A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard, where Bruenor makes his first appearance.

So how does Bruenor’s card measure up? Bruenor is given a fantastic treatment by renowned fantasy artist Wayne Reynolds. As mentioned earlier, Bruenor was a mighty dwarven warrior who was also the leader of Clan Battlehammer and showed a great deal of compassion for his friends throughout the novels. Bruenor is represented as a Boros Legendary Creature – Dwarf Warrior, which in my opinion is perfectly on-brand for the character. He has two abilities representing Bruenor’s skill as both a craftsman and a leader.

Each creature you control gets +2/+0 for each Equipment attached to it.

You may pay 0 rather than pay the equip cost of the first equip ability you activate each turn.

I think this card is a pretty good representation of the character but there are some aspects that I feel could have been better represented.

Grade: B 

Drizzt Do’Urden

Drizzt Do’Urden

Arguably one of the most famous characters ever to grace the Sword Coast of The Forgotten Realms, the dark elf, Drizzt Do’Urden, has been given treatment as his very own Magic: The Gathering card.

For those unfamiliar with the Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore, Drizzt was born into the Drow city of Menzoberranzan, a city whose dedication to the evil spider queen Lolth had warped and corrupted the people’s sense of right and wrong. Drizzt quickly discovered he could not abide by the tenets of the spider queen, and after his father and mentor Zaknafein was sacrificed to Lolth, he left the cursed Drow city behind him and set out to forge his own path.

After many trials and travels, he made his home in the frozen reaches of Icewind Dale where he became fast friends with Bruenor Battlehammer, Wulfgar, Regis, and Catti-brie (the last of which would become Drizzt’s wife and bear him a daughter). Drizzt and the Companions of the Hall, as they would come to be known, went on many adventures and saved not only their home of Icewind Dale, but likely the world.

So now that we know a little about Drizzt, how does his card measure up? Let’s start at the top. Drizzt is a legendary Selesnya Elf Ranger. The white is representative of Drizzt’s most defining trait — his compassion for others and his strong moral compass. His patron goddess is Mielikki, also known as the Forest Queen (the green is representative of this). And finally, Drizzt is a Drow elf and a ranger by trade; thus, we have Elf Ranger.

Drizzt was nicknamed Two-Hands by his father and mentor Zaknafein and many enemies have fallen to the whirling speed of his deadly twin scimitars, making double strike perfect here. Drizzt is also never far from his constant companion, Guenhwyvar, the mighty panther which he summons when he enters the battlefield.

Throughout the books, Drizzt continues to fight stronger and deadlier adversaries and when his friends are in danger, Drizzt does everything he can to help them. Each time he emerges victorious, he grows and learns from the defeat of his adversaries. This is reflected in his final and most powerful ability:

Whenever a creature dies, if it had power greater than Drizzt’s power, put a number of +1/+1 counters on Drizzt equal to the difference.

I think that this card is one of the most flavorful cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and for me, a very big Drizzt fan, it faithfully reflects the character. You can bet that my friends will see Drizzt Do’Urden as my new Commander deck hits the table soon. For some suggestions of how to create your own Drizzt Do’Urden Commander Deck, be sure to check out Bennie Smith’s Commander Deep Dive.

Grade: A

Farideh, Devil’s Chosen

Farideh, Devil’s Chosen

Farideh is the protagonist of the Brimstone Angels series written by Erin M. Evans. In the novel, Farideh and her twin sister Havilar accidentally summon a fiendish creature known as a Cambion by the name of Lorcan, who tricks Farideh into a binding pact, transforming her into a powerful warlock with fiendish powers of her own. Farideh is a tiefling, a descendent of a bloodline that made a pact with Asmodeus, Hell’s most powerful deity, which resulted in them having a fiendish appearance. Despite her appearance, Farideh possesses a good heart.

As a direct result of the ritual, the family’s barn is ignited and the family (Farideh, her twin sister Havilar, and adoptive father, the dragonborn known as Mehen) is driven from the village. Exiled from their home, the three are driven to work as bounty hunters and monster slayers in order to make ends meet. The trio end up entangled in a plot whose threads reach deep into the depths of Hell itself. Farideh is a complicated character as she desires to escape the pact that she was tricked into, but never seems willing to take action to do so. At one point she even has the opportunity to kill her master Lorcan which would end her pact with him, but instead she spares his life.

So Farideh, Devil’s Chosen is legendary Izzet Tiefling Warlock. Farideh is a powerful arcane spell-caster who gained her Warlock powers from a fiendish pact with a Cambion. Farideh is also one of the first cards to bear the new creature type Tiefling! Making Farideh a “Human Devil” or “Devil Warlock” would not have been faithful to the character at all. I was also excited to see Lorcan, Warlock Collector, Farideh’s fiendish master, represented in a card too!

Lorcan, Warlock Collector

Now then, let’s look at her ability

Dark One’s Own Luck — Whenever you roll one or more dice, Farideh, Devil’s Chosen gains flying and menace until end of turn. If any of those results was 10 or higher, draw a card.

So this ability is very mechanical, and when I first read the card, I thought, “Where have I read Dark One’s Own Luck before?” So I cracked my Player’s Handbook and read over the Warlock Ability under Pact of the Fiend and found:

Dark One’s Own Luck. Starting at 6th level, you can call on your patron to alter fate in your favor. When you make an ability check or a saving throw, you can use this feature to add a d10 to your roll. You can do so after seeing the initial roll but before any of the roll’s effects occur.

An ability translated directly from D&D 5e? How exciting! And it seems to be pretty faithful to the source material. Well done!

Grade: A-

Minsc, Beloved Ranger

Minsc, Beloved Ranger

Minsc, Beloved Ranger is a fan-favorite character from the Baldur’s Gate series, brought to life by legendary voice actor Jim Cummings. The character is quirky, loveable, and talks to his pet hamster, Boo, whom Minsc is convinced is a miniature giant space hamster (yes, they have those in D&D). The character has also been recently brought back to life in several comic series by IDW Publishing, including Legends of Baldur’s Gate.

So how do you design a card for a character with such a pedigree and stay faithful to the source material? I think the best way is to take a memorable moment for the character and make that the focus. During one of their famed adventures, Boo mistakenly drank a potion of growth that had accidentally been dropped by Minsc and thus grew to an enormous size which, as I will illustrate further, is reflected in the card’s design.

So let’s take a look at this beloved ranger! Minsc is a legendary Naya Human Ranger. Minsc is indeed a ranger in D&D and his outlook on the world was good, but he was prone to fits of rage, especially when his companions were threatened. Naya Human Ranger feels good flavorwise. Now let’s take a look at his abilities:

When Minsc, Beloved Ranger enters the battlefield, create Boo, a legendary 1/1 red Hamster creature token with trample and haste.

Minsc was never far from his faithful companion Boo, so entering the battlefield alongside his furry friend makes sense. 

{X}: Until end of turn, target creature you control has base power and toughness X/X and becomes a Giant in addition to its other types. Activate only a sorcery.

I love the synergy between Minsc and Boo. Minsc can make Boo a huge threat even when he and Boo enter the battlefield together. Plus, Boo can swing for big damage the turn he enters the battlefield and he gains the Giant creature type. “Go for the eyes, Boo!” Fantastic! Truly a great tribute to a well-loved character and his miniature giant space hamster. 

Grade: A

Orcus, Prince of Undeath

Orcus, Prince of Undeath

A truly terrible sight to behold, is Orcus, Prince of Undeath. Orcus is depicted as a huge bloated demon with leathery bat-like wings, cloven hooves, and a face like a rotted goat skull. Orcus rules over the Abyssal realm of Thanatos, which reflects its master well. Thanatos is a dark barren wasteland literally crawling with undead. The swollen, corpulent bestial fiend desires nothing more than to see the multiverse swept clean of all life and to be the last living thing, with all others reanimated and bent to his infernal will.

Orcus wields the mighty Wand of Orcus, which according to legend is made from the skull of a human hero who was slain by Orcus. He will occasionally lose his grip on his wand, allowing it to find its way into mortal hands where it can cause chaos, destruction, and death. This all serves to further Orcus’s ultimate goal of lording over all as Undead Master.

Now let’s take a look at the card. Orcus, Prince of Undeath is a legendary Rakdos Demon. This all checks out so far, as he is a prince amongst demons with the power over the undead. Furthermore, he has flying and trample, reflecting his massive wings and his corrupted strength. He also has the following abilities:

When Orcus, Prince of Undeath enters the battlefield, choose one —

Each other creature gets -X/-X until end of turn. You lose X life.

Return up to X target creature cards with total mana value X or less from your graveyard to the battlefield. They gain haste until end of turn.

His first ability reflects his desire to be the last creature in existence and to see all other life expunged. His other ability reflects his mastery of raising the undead from their graves and bending them to serve his will. I also love that they made the Wand of Orcus into its own card, further adding to Orcus’s flavor.

Grade: A

The Tarrasque

The Tarrasque

One of the most iconic and powerful monsters in The Forgotten Realms, The Tarrasque’s destructive potential is legendary, so much so that it is feared across the realms. Fortunately, it is believed that only one of the monsters exists and legend tells us that it slumbers somewhere and can remain in such a suspended state for centuries if not longer.

However, when the creature awakens, for whatever reason,  it’s terrifying to behold. Nigh-unkillable, with a carapace capable of reflecting magical spells back upon the caster, The Tarrasque’s hunger is insatiable and it’s able to consume all but the largest of creatures. The Tarrasque leaves a trail of destruction in its wake wherever it treads. 

How does the Tarrasque stack up as a card? The Tarrasque is a legendary green Dinosaur. The Tarrasque is a massive creature that often razes civilizations to the ground, so green makes sense, but Dinosaur??? The Monster Manual refers to The Tarrasque as a Gargantuan Monstrosity (Titan). Would you believe that neither Titan nor Monster are creature types (trust me, I looked)?

Up next, we have the two special abilities:

The Tarrasque has haste and ward 10 as long as it was cast.

I assume this is representing the reflective carapace of The Tarrasque and it waking from its long slumber.

Whenever The Tarrasque attacks, it fights target creature defending player controls.

This is clearly reflecting The Tarrasque’s insatiable appetite and destructive nature, but I think it could have been much cooler and included something like…

Whenever the Tarrasque attacks, it fights or destroys an artifact or an enchantment the defending player controls.

In my opinion, that would have fit the flavor better. Also where’s trample? The Tarrasque has literally toppled kingdoms, as reflected in its flavor text, “When it rises, nations fall.” And yet no trample? Even Ghalta, Primal Hunger has trample! I suppose I was expecting something stronger. It hits in some areas but has some pretty big misses in others.

Grade: C-

Volo, Guide to Monsters

Volo, Guide to Monsters

Volothamp Geddarm, also known simply as Volo, is the self-styled expert on a variety of topics in The Forgotten Realms. Volo is depicted in his card, presumably reading from his self-published book, Volo’s Guide to Monsters. The book contains numerous misleading and sometimes downright false pieces of information, but Volo perseveres anyway and often wears out his welcome at local taverns and inns, all while peddling his newest writings.

Overall, Volo is a likable, yet irksome, character who seemingly blunders his way through surviving encounters with deadly monsters and trying to make a living off the writings. To be honest, it’s rather miraculous he continues to emerge unscathed.

So how does his card stack up? First of all, it’s an interesting card for an interesting character. As Volo is trained in the magical arts and can cast spells, Human Wizard checks out. As Volo is a scholar of monsters, I suppose Simic is the logical choice.

I’ll be honest — I was going to write off poor Volo here and give him a C at best. That is, until I realized the brilliance of his card design! Volo encourages and indeed rewards you for filling your library with a multitude of different monster types! In a sense you are thereby building your own guide to monsters! Brilliant! 

Grade: A

Xanathar, Guild Kingpin

Xanathar, Guild Kingpin

Xanathar is one of the most unusual crime lords in all of The Forgotten Realms. The beholder now called Xanathar earned its title by disintegrating another Beholder and taking the title for itself. Xanathar operates out of Skullport, a seedy underground shadow port from which it keeps tabs on everything and everyone (or so it believes).

Most don’t even know they’re under the Beholder’s observation. Its minions, members of the Xanathar Thieves Guild, constantly vie for the Beholder’s favor and often betray each other in the process. These minions often end up disintegrated anyway by the paranoid Beholder. However, the only creature that Xanathar pays any heed to is its beloved pet goldfish named Sylgar (who has been replaced many times throughout the years without Xanathar’s knowledge by panicked agents.)

So how do you portray one of the D&D’s most infamous know-it-alls? Xanathar is a legendary Dimir Beholder. It’s a very smart and enigmatic crime lord, which fits the mold of a blue and black creature. It’s also one of the first creatures to obtain the new creature type Beholder. Xanathar has one powerful ability:

At the beginning of your upkeep, choose target opponent. Until end of turn, that player can’t cast spells, you may look at the top card of their library any time, you may play the top card of their library, and you may spend mana as though it were mana of any color to cast spells this way.

Obviously when designing a card you cannot give it every ability it has in the Monster Manual, as it would be too powerful, and so you have to focus on what makes the character unique. For Xanathar, this is reflected in its ability to use all the knowledge gained from its opponents and use it against them. Xanathar truly feels like a secretive master pulling all the strings. I would give this card an A, but Xanathar told me it’s mad its fish Sylgar wasn’t included as a token and I don’t want to end up disintegrated.

Grade: B+

Zalto, Fire Giant Duke

Zalto, Fire Giant Duke

In the module Storm King’s Thunder, Zalto, Fire Giant Duke is the leader of the fire giants. With the disappearance of the Storm Giant King Hekaton, the caste system of all giantkind is thrown into disarray. Each giant leader attempts to appease the giant gods, especially Annam the All-Father, by proving their might. Zalto feels that he can earn his place as the ruler of all giants by gathering the pieces of a great weapon, an adamantine colossus known as the Vonindod, and using it to kill dragons, the ancient enemy of giantkind.

As with many fire giants, Zalto is also cruel. Contained within his maul is an unfortunate prisoner who incurred Zalto’s wrath and is knocked around with each mighty swing. He’s also never too far from his two pets, mighty hellhounds named Narthor and Zerebor. As the leader of his people, Zalto embodies the virtues and ambitions of his warlike people, as the flavor text of his card implies. His thirst for war is unquenchable and held in check only by King Hekaton. With the Storm King’s absence, nothing stands between Zalto and his quest for domination. 

So how does our final legend stack up? Zalto is a powerful card to be sure, a seven-power creature with trample and a powerful ability for five mana. However, in my opinion, the flavor is lacking. A fire giant being a red creature comes as no surprise here, as well as his creature type Giant. However, fire giants are a very strictly regimented society, so the creature type Barbarian makes little sense here. Noble or even Warrior would have been a better flavor choice in my opinion.

Trample makes sense due to his mighty maul, but his other ability…

Whenever Zalto, Fire Giant Duke is dealt damage, venture into the dungeon. (Enter the first room or advance to the next room.)

…makes little sense to me as its only connection is that Zalto is found near the end of a dungeon. As Zalto is obsessed with reassembling the Vonindod (which is even depicted in the background of his card), and a red creature, I would have assumed he would care more about artifacts and perhaps have an effect similar to Kuldoltha Forgemaster. A different take would be him imprisoning a creature for a turn, or until he attacked, to represent his mighty maul. Or have him enter the battlefield with his faithful hellhounds.

Overall I feel that, flavorwise, Zalto is a pretty substantial miss for me.

Grade: D

I hope you enjoyed this article. It was truly a labor of love. If you are a Dungeons & Dragons fan like myself and want to read more of my musings about dungeons, dragons, and Game Master advice, check out my blog.

So what did you think of my assessment of the flavor of these cards? What is your favorite legendary creature from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms?